John Brown items going to auction

September 20, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A "one of a kind" collection, including a piece of the scaffolding on which abolitionist John Brown was hanged in Charles Town and one of the handbills posted to alert the public to the 1859 execution, will be auctioned next month, according to two people familiar with the sale.

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The items are in a collection that was built by the late Thornton Tayloe Perry, a Charles Town resident who worked as postmaster, was a military officer during World War II and lectured on local history.

Perry, who died in 1981, began collecting the items when he lived on Mildred Street in Charles Town, according to John Newcomer of York Town Auction Inc., in York, Pa., where the collection will be auctioned Oct. 29 and 30.

When Perry ran out of room in his house, he had a building constructed for the collection, Newcomer said.


The building was designed like a museum, with humidity controls, a security system and no windows, Newcomer said.

Inside, Perry stored decades of history.

Perry acquired a box of matches said to have been in Brown's jail cell before he was executed, as well as a piece of the structure that was used to hang the abolitionist on Samuel Street, Newcomer said.

Perry also had one of 10 known handbills that were posted around Charles Town warning residents to stay off the streets until the hanging was completed and other artifacts from the execution, Newcomer said.

On Oct. 16, 1859, Brown and several followers seized the U.S. armory and arsenal at Harpers Ferry, setting the stage for the Civil War. Brown was subsequently captured and found guilty of treason.

Perry's collection includes a letter to Brown from Mahala Doyle, who loathed Brown. The abolitionist and his followers were believed to have killed her husband and two sons in Kansas in 1856 because they were pro-slavery.

Doyle said in the letter that she wished she could be in Charles Town to witness Brown's hanging.

"I confess that I feel gratified that you were stopped in your fiendish career at Harpers Ferry," Doyle wrote to Brown.

Newcomer said it is hard to put a value on the items, but that the Doyle letter could bring between $1,000 and $2,000.

There are many other papers, including minutes from meetings in Clarksburg, W.Va., where officials were planning the secession from Virginia, and records of a volunteer military group that formed in Boonsboro in the early 19th century.

York Town Auction officials hauled about six van loads of the artifacts to York for the sale, and workers have spent more than 11 days putting the items into categories, Newcomer said.

"There's just so many oddities," he said. "There are a ton of categories that we have broken down by town, counties and states."

A spokeswoman for Harpers Ferry National Historical Park said park officials are aware of the collection and probably will examine the artifacts.

Working with the park and all of its John Brown-related material, sometimes it seems like every item remaining from the period has been recovered, said Marsha Starkey.

"Then you see a collection like this and you say, 'Wow,''' Starkey said Monday.

Perry served as provost marshal of London in World War II, helping to coordinate military operations between the U.S. and its allies. He was postmaster in Charles Town for more than 10 years and helped organize the Jefferson County Historical Society.

The auction is being held at York Town Auction because Newcomer was a friend of Perry's who used to help him buy artifacts.

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